A recent decision by the Fairbanks Borough Assembly and Mayor to defeat a trail-related ordinance was not “mob rule.”
In her January 31 letter “Personal property rights in danger,” Gail McBride made strong claims without backing them up. She also left out some important details. You can find her letter here: https://tinyurl.com/e6w6xwjv
Ms. McBride did get some things right:
- Ordinance 2022-65 did state that “property rights are the foundation of our republic.”
- It also stated that “a property owner should not be required to dedicate a portion of their property for a trail easement.”
However, Ms. McBride failed to point out that:
- The existing law does not affect ALL trails in the Fairbanks Borough, only certain trails Comprehensive Recreational Trails Plan.
- The easement is required only when the land is subdivided.
- When property owners choose to subdivide, they agree to the subdivision process, which has several requirements (see below).
- Many trails in the Trails Plan predate the landowners, and even the state.
- The Trails Plan process, which was open and driven by the public, made every effort to ensure that only consenting property owners were affected by new trails in the plan.
Ms. McBride also stated that some people believe “that someone other than the owner has rights to property.” She also wrote: “It is unacceptable that the borough can require a property owner to give an easement for trails or any other public use.”
Perhaps Ms. McBride believes these claims. I suspect she did not fully think through her statements.
FACTS ABOUT PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS
In some circumstances the government does restrict private property rights. For example, by law, when landowners subdivide, the lot sizes must be a certain size and configuration based on zoning laws. They must provide utility easements and legal access to a state-maintained road. And, yes, they must provide an easement for A and B trails on the Trails Plan. You can read about all the restrictions here: https://fnsb.borough.codes/FNSBC/17.56
Does Ms. McBride truly believe that these other laws should also be repealed?
NOT MOB RULE
Ms. McBride also stated: “Mayor Ward’s comment that he would veto this ordinance if the members passed it exposed him to be an advocate for mob rule ideology taking over.”
That is very unfair. Mayor Ward made it clear he would veto the ordinance because Assembly members who sponsored it refused to work with the administration to work out the problems. He asked that the ordinance be referred to the Platting Board. The sponsors ignored that request. Does that make him an “advocate for mob rule ideology”? No. Just the opposite. He wanted to work within the system. Mob rule is when you ignore existing structures and standards. Why did the ordinance sponsors not ask that it be referred to the Platting Board even when they knew the mayor would veto it? I don’t know. They had a chance to work within the system. They chose not to.
PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS AND TRAILS CAN AND DO CO-EXIST
The existing law, which has been in place since the late 1980s, has not been challenged in that time. One variance was asked for and granted. If the existing law was such an egregious violation of private property rights, wouldn’t it have been challenged in more than 30 years?
Borough staff involved in the Trails Plan process understand and respect private property rights. With any new trails added to the plan, the borough staff made every effort to ensure that only consenting property owners were affected. Parts of two trails have been contentious. Borough staff have worked very hard with those property owners to come up with reasonable solutions, but the issues are complicated. Nonetheless, that’s impressive given that there are hundreds of trails in the plan.
Many older trails in the Trails Plan predate the landowners, and even the borough and the state. The Trails Plan was originally adopted to keep the government from taking trails from the citizens and selling them to private property owners.
I opposed Ordinance 2022-65 and outlined my reasoning in a blog post in late December. You can find it here: https://tinyurl.com/4nkj3e6n.
I hope Ms. McBride just didn’t know all the details before unfairly attacking Mayor Ward, who was willing to work with others to find solutions. Finding compromise and working within the system are critical to avoiding mob rule. The Assembly members who supported Ordinance 2022-65 had a chance to follow that path. They chose not to take it.
Eric Troyer is a local trail advocate and a resident of the Fairbanks Borough for more than 30 years.